On top of the town where we live (Soriano nel Cimino), right in the middle of the forest of Oak and Chestnut trees, along an old route that was used to transport goods on the back of donkeys, there are the ruins of an old church and convent of the order of Saint Augustine. This was built starting in the XII century, but the original settlement is likely older. There is a spring of water next to it, and the area is rich of various natural and man-made caves – some maybe belonging to the Etrurians or even to earlier populations that lived in the area since the bronze age.
We know that Saint Augustine, in his early age, studied Astronomy and Astrology, had dubious taste and tact when it came to human relationships (he had a son with his lover and later tried to marry a 10-years old girl), but eventually became a priest when he was 31. Besides continuing to have various concubines, he is responsible for developing the interpretation of passage in the Bible that talks about the original sin: obviously his relation with femininity wasn’t the nicest we can think of. He also declared himself a pacifist, even while stating otherwise that the use of violence might be necessary when it came to matters of converting those who didn’t want to believe the official Catholic church’s version of things. We can basically say he is largely responsible for both changing the image of the feminine into the ‘sinner’ version of Eve we all have heard about, as well as for essentially legitimizing holy wars. Obviously, the priests of his order were following his doctrine.
In the late XIII (or early XIV) century, one of the priests associated with this convent, Lupo Franchini da Coriano (later known as ‘Beato Lupo’), decided that the ‘standard’ monastic life and the life of the corrupt cities were not for him, and he became a hermit: he settled himself to live in one of the caves close by he convent, on top of a rock formation (you can see it in the picture), in the cold and with no comfort whatsoever. From there, he was communing with the Divine on his own terms, overlooking the mountains and the trees, meditating, studying the scriptures, looking at the stars, hearing the sounds of Nature. People heard about this holy man and they kept coming to talk to him, to hear his words and wisdom. To the convents folks, he was probably just labelled as crazy – at least initially – but later, as his audience and followers grew in number, I can see how he must have started to feel like an annoyance to the established ecclesiastic hierarchies.
While waiting for the construction of his Castle in the town, Pope Niccolo’ III (of the Orsini family) was a welcome guest in the aforementioned convent and he even invested in expanding it. While he was there, it’s almost impossible he didn’t hear about and couldn’t avoid coming in contact with Lupo the hermit, who was living ‘next door’.
It is said that the bishop of Viterbo ordered the hermit to set out towards the Middle East to preach and convert people as a missionary, as far as he could reach, and that he accepted, never to return. It is said that Lupo reached as far as India, maybe further.
Somehow I don’t believe this. Incidentally, one of the other caves close by the convent (which was likely used as a graveyard for the monks) has a legend associated with it: it would have contained a treasure made up of a golden hen with 12 golden chicks. The legend says that whoever would try to enter such cave with the intent to steal the treasure would experience his torches turn themselves off – all of a sudden – and they would die from the shock and fear.
Nowadays, these places fall within a private property belonging to a local association, which can organize walks in the forest and guided visits for groups. Should you come and visit us at the Sanctuary of Joy in the future, we’ll be happy to contact them to arrange a visit.